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Published: 5/8/2020 1:33:11 PM

Modified: 5/8/2020 1:32:59 PM

PHILLIPSTON — The Selectboard and the Planning Board, meeting jointly for an online public hearing, each unanimously endorsed plans to enact moratoria to prohibit the establishment of retail recreational cannabis businesses and the construction of large ground-mounted solar arrays in Phillipston.

Each moratorium, if passed by voters at the June 16 Annual Town Meeting, could remain in effect for up to 18 months.

“We need to look at the bylaws again,” said Planning Board Chair Bernie Malouin, “for the marijuana and the solar bylaws. The reason being, that it wasn’t taken into consideration that there were misunderstandings about what the actual bylaws mean.

“Anybody who went to Town Meeting last year remembers there was an article proposed to make some changes in the marijuana bylaw. We promised those individuals who brought the petition to us that we would look at that. We have not had the time, given the other constraints with the town and the pandemic, to work on this.”

Malouin said a moratorium would allow the board time to review the existing marijuana bylaw and, if deemed advisable, make changes. Earlier this year, the Planning Board did discuss the possibility of increasing the number of cannabis businesses allowed in town beyond the single operation required by state law. The board also debated a proposal to increase the setback allowed for marijuana operations beyond the existing 400-foot limit. The back portion of such a business is currently prohibited from being more than 400 feet from the road.

Malouin also said there are problems with the existing bylaws regulating solar arrays.

“There are a lot of problems,” he said, “in that they don’t protect the abutters, the environment. Solar companies are also looking at installing these battery packs — imagine these 40-or 50-foot units on the back of a trailer truck — four, five, six of them at a location. I think we need to study that. We’re not talking about people with solar panels on their roofs; we’re talking about large ground-mounted solar arrays.

“We’re not trying to stop them. We just want the time to look around and see what the towns around us are doing, and we should probably do the same thing. So, some morning you get up, and you thought you had a nice field behind you, and there’s 30 acres of glare and noise that’s probably going to move you out of town.”

Malouin pointed out that enactment of the moratoria would not call a halt to any projects, cannabis- or solar-related, that are already “in the works.”

While there are no such projects currently moving through the permitting process, cannabis entrepreneur Damon Schmidt said he would get the process for establishing a business underway prior to the June 19 Town Meeting. Schmidt wants to construct a retail and cultivation operation at the corner of Baldwin Hill Road and Route 2A. He and town officials have been trying, thus far unsuccessfully, to hammer out a host community agreement, as required by state law.

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